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Remembering James Berton “Bert” Rhoads, Fifth Archivist of the United States (1968-1979)

Today’s post comes from Alex Nieuwsma, an intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC.

On April 7, 2015, former Archivist of the United States James “Bert” Rhoads passed away at the age of 86.

Portrait of James B. Rhoads, Fifth Archivist of the United States, ca. 1968. (National Archives Identifier 7368465)

Portrait of James B. Rhoads, Fifth Archivist of the United States, ca. 1968. (National Archives Identifier 7368465)

James Berton Rhoads was born on September 17, 1928, in Sioux City, Iowa. He graduated with a B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley in 1950 and earned an M.A. from the institution in 1952. He later earned his Ph.D. from American University in Washington, DC.

Rhoads joined the National Archives in 1952 as a microfilm operator, but soon headed down the professional track. In 1966 he was appointed Deputy Archivist under Dr. Robert Bahmer. He replaced Bahmer as Archivist of the United States on May 2, 1968, after having served as Acting Archivist for nearly two months.

Rhoads’s tenure as Archivist saw massive changes within the National Archives, many of which increased the accessibility of the National Archives and its holdings. He started the quarterly magazine Prologue, which saw its first issue published in Spring 1969. He also expanded the regional archives system to solve the two-fold problem of needing more records storage space and increasing the public’s access to records.

Though known as a shy man, Rhoads was an outspoken … [ Read all ]

On Exhibit: “Lady Hooch Hunter”

Today’s post comes from Zach Kopin, an intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC.

A new exhibit on America’s connection to alcohol is now on display at the National Archives. “Spirited Republic: Alcohol and American History” is about the United States’ love-hate relationship with the “demon rum.”

Daisy Simpson's Prohibition Unit ID, September 6, 1921. (National Archives Identifier 6238194)

Daisy Simpson’s Prohibition Unit ID, September 6, 1921. (National Archives Identifier 6238194)

Bruce Bustard, the exhibit’s curator, says the exhibit demonstrates the “changing attitudes of the American people about alcohol, and also looks at that through the records of the National Archives and Presidential Libraries.”

One of the most interesting people featured in the exhibit is Daisy Simpson. Simpson was one of the Treasury Department’s most famous Prohibition officers (called “prohis”).

Known as the “Lady Hooch Hunter,” Simpson quickly attracted attention—and press—with her spectacular busts of Volstead Act violators.

Passed on October 28, 1919, the Volstead Act implemented the 18th amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which established prohibition in the U.S.

The act empowered Federal, as well as state and local governments, to enforce Prohibition by limiting the manufacture, sale, or transportation of alcohol.

The U.S. Government turned to the Treasury Department to play the part of the act’s enforcer, a role in which women were integral.

While women gained the equal right to vote 1920, gender-based assignment of tasks endured. Women worked in the … [ Read all ]

On Exhibit: Americans with Disabilities Act

Today’s post comes from Alex Nieuwsma, an intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC. 

Americans with Disabilities Act, July 26, 1990. (General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives)

Americans with Disabilities Act, July 26, 1990. (General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives)

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, signed by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990, forbids employers from discriminating against mentally or physically disabled employees. It also instituted accessibility requirements for buildings and public transportation, such as ramps for wheelchairs and posting signs in Braille.

The disability rights movement grew following the successes of the civil rights and women’s rights movements of the 1960s.

The movement’s first big success came with the Rehabilitation Act, signed in 1973 by President Richard Nixon. The Rehabilitation Act prohibits the discrimination of the disabled by any Federal agencies, Federal programs, or Federally contracted employers.

The private sector did not fall under the Rehabilitation Act and was still able to fire (or not hire) employees based solely on their disability. Additionally, many buildings were inaccessible to the disabled, especially those aided by wheelchairs. It soon became clear that a broader law encompassing all employers needed to be passed.

Americans with Disabilities Act, July 26, 1990. (General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives)

Americans with Disabilities Act, July 26, 1990. (General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives)

The Americans with Disabilities Act defines “disability” as, having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more “major life activities.” The law … [ Read all ]

On Exhibit: Report concerning the death of Abraham Lincoln

Today’s post comes from Zach Kopin, an intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC.

On March 4, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Dr. Charles A. Leale, a doctor and army surgeon in town from New York, listened with rapt attention to the President’s remarks. He and the President crossed paths one more time, although under more somber circumstances. Leale was the first doctor to attend to Lincoln after the President was shot at Ford’s Theatre.

Leale’s report to the Surgeon General of the United States concerning the Lincoln assassination is now on display at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

Report of Assistant Surgeon Charles A. Leale concerning the death of A. Lincoln (page 1), 1865. (Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, National Archives)

Report of Assistant Surgeon Charles A. Leale concerning the death of A. Lincoln (page 1), 1865. (Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, National Archives)

On April 14, 1865, both men attended a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre. The play, Leale later noted, “progressed very pleasantly” until half past 10, when “the report of a pistol was distinctly heard” and the whole scene erupted in confusion.

Next, a man brandishing a dagger, later identified as John Wilkes Booth, jumped from the President’s box onto the stage, dislodged himself from the flags in which he had been entangled, and ran. As Booth made his escape, Lincoln slumped in his … [ Read all ]

Unbroken, Part II

Today’s post comes from Zach Kopin, intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC.

On May 28, 1943, a B-24 airplane crashed into the Pacific Ocean leaving only three survivors. The survivors floated on the sea for 46 days with almost no food or fresh water. On the 47th day, they were picked up by Japanese sailors and imprisoned for the remainder of the war.

Does that story sound familiar? Chances are you heard it before.

The Army Air Force bomber, nicknamed the Green Hornet, was Louis Zamperini’s. A former Olympian, Zamperini was one of the crew who survived on the raft after their plane went down over the Pacific Ocean. His story has been featured in several books, most famously in Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 book Unbroken and a major motion picture of the same name, but he was not the alone on the raft. Both pilot Lt. Russell A. Phillips and tailgunner SSgt. Francis P. McNamara survived too.

Unlike Zamperini, however, neither Phillips nor McNamara received much notoriety from the incident. Instead, they have been largely ignored by historians and the public alike, merely a footnote on Zamperini’s biographic odyssey of herculean proportions.

At the time he and his comrades bailed out over the Pacific, Phillips was a 27-year-old first lieutenant in the Army Air Corps. A native of Indiana, Phillips held a forestry … [ Read all ]